Siege of Nubl and al-Zahraa

Coordinates: 36°22′32″N 36°59′39″E / 36.3756°N 36.9942°E / 36.3756; 36.9942
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Siege of Nubl and al-Zahraa
Part of the Syrian Civil War

Syrian Army soldiers after breaking the siege of Nubl and al-Zahraa, 3 February 2016. A flag of the local "Soldiers of the Mahdi" (Imam Hujja Regiment) forces is in the foreground.
Date19 July 2012 – 3 February 2016
(3 years, 6 months, 2 weeks and 1 day)

Decisive Syrian government victory[5]

Free Syrian Army[1][2]
Islamic Front[2]
al-Nusra Front[2]
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant[3]

Syria Syrian Arab Republic

 Russia (from late 2015)
Allied militias:
Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba[4]
Commanders and leaders

Abu Qudama al-Urduni [6]
(Al-Nusra commander of Harim and Salqin)
Sheikh Mahmoud al-Khayr [7][better source needed]

Abu ‘Isma’aeel al-Hamwi [7][better source needed]
Mohsen Ghajarian 
Units involved

Free Syrian Army

Syrian Armed Forces

Iran Iranian Armed Forces

Russia Russian Armed Forces

Lebanese and Syrian Hezbollah

Unknown 3,000 NDF fighters[14]
125 Lebanese Hezbollah fighters[14]

The siege of Nubl and al-Zahraa during the Syrian civil war was laid by rebels to capture two Syrian government-held towns north of Aleppo, after they had seized most of the northern countryside in July 2012. The siege was lifted on 3 February 2016, as a result of a Syrian government offensive.[15]


Fighting in the Aleppo Governorate began on 10 February 2012. Over the next five months, major clashes left large parts of the rural countryside under rebel control, while the provincial capital, Aleppo city, remained firmly under government control. On 19 July 2012, rebel forces stormed the city and the battle for Aleppo began,[16] which reached a stalemate by September that dragged on over the following years, with the city divided between the two opposing forces.

The siege[edit]

Map of the siege (Red: Syrian Arab Republic, Green: Syrian Opposition, Yellow: Kurdish forces)

The majority-Shiite towns of Nubl and al-Zahraa, with a combined population of 35,000–60,000,[17][18] were placed under siege by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) opposition group, beginning in July 2012. Movement out of Nubl was severely curtailed and residents relied on goods being airlifted by the Syrian Army. Relations between the inhabitants of Nubl and the surrounding villages were normally friendly, however during the ongoing civil war, anti-government supporters from nearby Sunni villages claimed that Nubl and al-Zahraa were hosting shabiha pro-government militias that launched attacks against opposition supporters. There were numerous tit-for-tat kidnappings between Nubl and pro-opposition villages in its vicinity.[19][20] After months of rebel siege and continuous reciprocal kidnappings, popular committees in the two towns agreed to begin negotiations with the Sunni rebels on 27 March 2013. The agreement to negotiate was organised by Kurdish parties from the neighbouring Kurd Dagh region, controlled by the Kurdish-led PYD. The talks were to be brokered by the Kurds, and several kidnapped individuals had been freed on both sides.[21] Over the following years, the only land route that brought some food and essential goods came from the then-Kurdish-held town of Afrin, to the north.[18]

In mid-2013, 125 Hezbollah fighters were deployed via helicopters to reinforce the government defenses.[14]

In February 2014, al-Qaeda's al-Nusra Front and other Islamist groups captured the al-Ma'amel industrial area in the south of al-Zahraa.[22]

On 23 November 2014, the al-Nusra Front, along with other Islamist factions, launched a three-front assault on the two towns and seized the industrial area southeast of al-Zahraa.[23] They also advanced into the eastern outskirts of Nubl, which they targeted with dozens of mortar and hell-cannon shells after capturing buildings that were part of the government's first line of defense. Besides the regular Syrian Armed Forces troops and Hezbollah, the towns were also defended by their residents.[24] By the next day, both areas were recaptured by government forces.[7] Between eight and 43 rebels were killed during the two-day offensive.[24][7]

On 8 January 2015, a new rebel offensive, led by the al-Nusra Front, was launched against Nubl and Al-Zahraa. The first attack wave succeeded in breaking the first defensive line in both East Nubl and South Al-Zahraa, in the industrial area, and persisted overnight. The attack was repelled by National Defence Forces (NDF) and Hezbollah troops, ultimately resulting in the deaths of 14 rebels and 11 pro-government fighters. The rebels also lost four tanks,[25] three of which were captured.[26] Before being forced to retreat from the eastern part of Nubl, the rebels managed to capture the town's first and second roundabouts.[27] During the fighting, a series of air raids reportedly destroyed rebel reinforcement convoys coming from al-Maayer.[14] The next day, according to pro-government sources, a second attack was also repelled.[28] By 14 January, the military secured Nubl and claimed that al-Nusra suffered 250 dead during the offensive.[14]

Syrian Army soldiers after the siege, 3 February 2016
Local civilians greet Syrian Army soldiers following the end of the siege, 3 February 2016

In mid-February 2015, the Syrian Army and its allies launched a major offensive in the northern Aleppo countryside, with the aim of cutting the last rebel supply routes into Aleppo city and relieving the rebel siege of Nubl and Al-Zahraa.[29] They quickly captured several villages,[30] but bad weather conditions and an inability to call up reinforcements stalled the offensive.[31] A few days later, the rebels launched a counter-offensive, retaking two of the four positions they had lost to government forces.[32]

During the fighting in February 2015, 18 members of the Iraqi Shiite militant group Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba were reportedly killed while defending Nubl and Al-Zahraa.[4]

On 17 April 2015, the NDF and Hezbollah recaptured the al-Ma'amel industrial area[22][33][34] and by 19 April, Syrian government sources reported that 44 rebels and 12 soldiers had been killed.[35] Beginning in October, the Iranian Air Force began to airdrop supplies for Nubl and al-Zahraa using two C-130 Hercules transports.[13]

Local civilians greet Syrian Army soldiers who broke the siege, 3 February 2016

On 1 February 2016, a new offensive was launched by the military to reach Nubl and al-Zahraa and break the siege. By 2 February, they had captured three villages and part of a fourth, advancing to within three kilometers of the two besieged towns. Throughout 1 and 2 February, 320 air-raids were conducted against the rebels.[36] At the same time, Hezbollah and pro-government fighters from Nubl and al-Zahraa launched their own assault and reportedly managed to gain some ground on the outskirts of the nearby town of Bayanoun.[17] On 3 February, the military had finally broken the rebel siege on the two Shiite towns, after securing the village of Mu'arrassat al-Khan,[37] where the approaching force and fighters trying to break out from the two towns linked up.[18] The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that the advance, which also cut the last northern rebel supply route from Turkey to Aleppo city, was assisted by "heavy" Russian air strikes. An opposition politician described the government's encirclement of Aleppo as a "horrible development",[5] while in contrast the mayor of Nubl stated the rebel siege was "cruel and caused much hardship".[18] More than 100 rebels, 64–66 soldiers[12] and 18–45 civilians were killed during the operation.[36][38] Among the dead were 11 rebel commanders,[39] 20 pro-government fighters from the two towns and 14 Iranian IRGC members,[12] including Iranian 2nd Brigadier General Mohsen Ghajarian.[40] In all, more than 500 Russian and Syrian air strikes and barrel bombs bombarded rebel positions during the intensive two-day offensive to break the siege.[41]


The day following the end of the siege Nubl and al-Zahraa, the Syrian government advanced east and captured the town of Mayer[42] as well as reportedly Kafr Naya.[43] Meanwhile, further north, the Kurdish YPG seized two villages from the rebels.[44]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d UNHRC (2013), p. 22.
  2. ^ a b c sohranas (April 2015). "The clashes continue around Nasib border crossing, and the helicopters drop 9 barrel bombs on Ibtaa and al- Sheikh Meskin". Syrian Observatory For Human Rights. Retrieved 5 April 2015.
  3. ^ "The Assad Regime and Jihadis: Collaborators and Allies?". 12 February 2014.
  4. ^ a b "Iraqi Shiite Foreign Fighters on the Rise Again in Syria". Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  5. ^ a b "Syria conflict: Government 'cuts Aleppo rebel supply route'". BBC News. 3 February 2016. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  6. ^ "How Jordanians Came to Dominate al-Nusra Front". Al Akhbar English. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  7. ^ a b c d Leith Fadel (24 November 2014). "Full Report from Al-Zahra and Nubl: Jabhat Al-Nusra Unable to Infiltrate". Al-Masdar News. Archived from the original on 9 July 2015. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  8. ^ UNHRC (2013), pp. 17, 22.
  9. ^ "Captain Bewar Mustafa: BKK prevents the entry of relief materials to Afrin". Kobani Kurd. 11 June 2013. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi (15 August 2016). "Syrian Hezbollah Militias of Nubl and Zahara'". Syria Comment. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  11. ^ Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi (23 May 2016). "The Local Defence Forces: Regime Auxiliary Forces in Aleppo". Syria Comment. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  12. ^ a b c Edward (4 February 2016). "The regime forces and militiamen loyal to them control Meyer town adjacent to the Nubl and al-Zahraa, and intense raids target Aleppo neighborhoods and cause casualties and injuries". Syrian Observatory For Human Rights.
  13. ^ a b Ripley 2018, p. 33.
  14. ^ a b c d e Leith Fadel (15 January 2015). "Aleppo: Al-Nusra Front Suffers an Embarrassing Defeat at Al-Zahra and Nubl". Al-Masdar News. Archived from the original on 9 July 2015. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  15. ^ Laila Bassam (4 February 2016). "Syrian army and allies breaks rebel siege of Shi'ite towns: army". Reuters.
  16. ^ Luke Harding and Martin Chulov (22 July 2012). "Syrian rebels fight Assad troops in Aleppo". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 29 July 2012.
  17. ^ a b Chris Tomson (2 February 2016). "Syrian Army launches massive offensive in northern Aleppo – Map update". Al-Masdar News. Archived from the original on 6 July 2019. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  18. ^ a b c d Laila Bassam (4 February 2016). "Syrian army and allies breaks rebel siege of Shi'ite towns – army". Reuters UK.
  19. ^ Hendawi, Hamza. In Syria, Sunni rebels besiege Shiite villages. Yahoo News. Originally published by Associated Press. 2012-10-18,
  20. ^ Landis, Joshua. Clinton Helps Shape New Syrian Gov in Exile Syria Comment. 2012-11-01.
  21. ^ "Syria Kurds help Shiite, Sunni fighters negotiate". NOW. AFP. 27 March 2013. Archived from the original on 5 July 2018. Retrieved 27 March 2013.
  22. ^ a b sohranas (18 April 2015). "6 members of NDF and the local militaimen killed during retaking al- Ma'amel area". Syrian Observatory For Human Rights. Archived from the original on 2015-04-18. Retrieved 2016-02-25.
  23. ^ "Agathocle de Syracuse". Archived from the original on 6 July 2015. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  24. ^ a b "Fighters from Syrian al Qaeda wing close in on Shi'ite village". Reuters. 23 November 2014. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  25. ^ "Agathocle de Syracuse". Archived from the original on 11 July 2015. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  26. ^ "Syrian army repels militant attack on northern villages". Al Akhbar English. Archived from the original on 26 January 2018. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  27. ^ "Syria Daily, Jan 9: Are Insurgents Close to Big Victory Near Aleppo, Taking Key Regime Villages?". EA WorldView. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  28. ^ Leith Fadel (9 January 2015). "Aleppo: The Al-Nusra Front's Attack on Zahra and Nubl is Repelled Again". Al-Masdar News. Archived from the original on 9 July 2015. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  29. ^ "Syria regime forces launch new Aleppo offensive". AFP. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  30. ^ "Fierce Fighting Near Aleppo as UN Envoy Pushes Truce in City". Associated Press. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  31. ^ "Rebel counter-attack, storms halt Aleppo offensive". The Daily Star. AFP. February 19, 2015. Retrieved February 19, 2015.
  32. ^ "Syrian Rebels Regain Territory Near Aleppo". The New York Times. February 19, 2015. Retrieved February 19, 2015.
  33. ^ "Syrians urge 'decisive storm' against Assad". The Daily Star Newspaper – Lebanon. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  34. ^ Leith Fadel (17 April 2015). "Breaking: NDF and Hezbollah Capture Industrial Area in Northern Aleppo". Al-Masdar News. Archived from the original on 9 July 2015. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  35. ^ Leith Fadel (19 April 2015). "Aleppo Report: ISIS Storms Kuweires Airbase; Hezbollah Advances at Al-Zahra". Al-Masdar News. Archived from the original on 9 July 2015. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  36. ^ a b "Syria regime advances on besieged Aleppo villages". AFP. 2 February 2016. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  37. ^ Laila Bassam (4 February 2016). "Syrian army and allies breaks rebel siege of Shi'ite towns – army". Reuters UK. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  38. ^ "Syrian army encircles Aleppo as ceasefire talks fade". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  39. ^ "The 'Nimr' Tiger". Twitter. Retrieved 2016-02-25.
  40. ^ "Thousands flee Aleppo as Russian-backed offensive intensifies". Arab News. Retrieved 5 February 2016.
  41. ^ Edward (3 February 2016). "After more than 500 airstrikes on the northern countryside of Aleppo, the regime forces break the siege of Nubl and al-Zahra'a". Syrian Observatory For Human Rights. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  42. ^ khaled (4 February 2016). "قوات النظام والمسلحين الموالين لها تسيطر على بلدة ماير المحاذية لنبل والزهراء وغارات مكثفة تستهدف أحياء بمدينة حلب وتخلف شهداء وجرحى". المرصد السورى لحقوق الإنسان. Retrieved 2016-02-25.
  43. ^ Chris Tomson (4 February 2016). "Syrian Army captures Mayir and Kafr Naya in new northern Aleppo offensive – Map update". Al-Masdar News. Archived from the original on 13 August 2018. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  44. ^ "The 'Nimr' Tiger". Twitter. Retrieved 2016-02-25.

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]

36°22′32″N 36°59′39″E / 36.3756°N 36.9942°E / 36.3756; 36.9942